From my limited knowledge in Italian cuisine when I moved here in 1999, learning how to make the proper lasagne was imperative. It was one of the dishes I immediately tried when I first visited the country a few months prior to moving. I liked how the pasta actually melts in your mouth and the taste of the ragù with bechamel and parmigiano reggiano was purely delectable.
I have been using the same recipe from the first time I ever made my first lasagne al ragù. Over the thirteen years that I have been using it, it had gone through a lot of transition. Until the other day, my husband and I agreed that it was the best and lightest one I have ever done.
Let me tell you how this recipe evolved over the years. I got the recipe from a lasagna package I bought. I followed it to the dot. It was very good and everyone was telling me so. It was the one dish that I took with me to all the parties we went to. The problem? It was just too heavy to digest and it didn't need deep analysis that the problem was with the big quantity of butter I used. With the persuasion of my mother-in-law and her sisters, I took away the butter completely from the ragù. The ragù was still good and much healthier.
Dry pasta against fresh pasta. I used to use dry pasta that you can put straight to the baking pan without pre-cooking but most of the time the edges come out too hard even if I try not to miss putting bechamel all the way until the edges. When I switched to the commercially bought fresh pasta, I lost the hard edges and the lasagne came out really soft and practically melted in my mouth. Even better is the freshly-made pasta that I bought from the newly-opened pasta shop in the neighborhood. Delicious! Since I tasted the differences between the three kinds of pasta - dry, commercial fresh and freshly-made on the same day, maybe, just maybe, I will take out my pastamaker from its box and start making my own too.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a cooking show of one of my favorite chefs and she was preparing some bechamel sauce. That was the time when I checked my bechamel recipe well. I was putting too much butter! Maybe for that, my husband was still complaining that it was still slightly heavy. I followed the ratio of the chef which was not really easy to forget. Just the same amount of butter and flour to make the roux. The amount of milk depends on how thick you want it to be.
Years of trial and error brought me to this recipe that I am finally concluding it. It is final. This is my lasagne al ragù recipe. And I would like to share it with you.
Lasagne al Ragù
Serves 4 - 6
- 250 g. ground beef
- 250 g. ground pork
- 260 g. tomato concentrate or paste
- 250 ml. Marsala wine
- 250 ml. water
- 250 g. passata di pomodoro (tomato puree) (Sometimes, I substitute this with canned whole tomatoes or in pieces.)
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- Mix the tomato concentrate, Marsala and water in a bowl. Set aside.
- Saute' garlic in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. When it turns golden, discard.
- Add chopped onion & carrot. Add meat after about 3 minutes.
- Pour tomato concentrate mixture & tomato puree when meat changes color. Cover. Simmer for an hour on low fire. Stir occasionally. If the sauce is drying up, add hot water.
- Season with salt & pepper.
- 80 g. butter
- 80 g. flour
- 750 ml. milk
- whole nutmeg, grate at the moment
- salt & pepper
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- Stir in flour with a small whisk until the roux is thick.
- Add milk and keep on whisking. Maintain a very low fire.
- Add grated nutmeg, salt & pepper according to taste.
- Take away from the fire when the mixture becomes thick.
- 5 - 6 fresh lasagna or dry lasagna, following the size of your baking pan (If using fresh pasta, cut to resize to follow the size of the baking pan. If using dry pasta, let it soften first in salted boiling water then dry with a clean dish towel before using. Most dry lasagna pasta nowadays instruct you to put them straight in the baking pan without needing to go through pre-cooking. I still pre-cook mine anyway. If you don't want to pre-cook, make your ragù & bechamel more liquid. Cut to resize to follow the size of the baking pan.)
- 150 g. grated parmigiano reggiano
- Rub butter in baking pan.
- Spread a thin layer of bechamel on the pan.
- Layer following this order: lasagna + ragù + bechamel + parmigiano. Make between 4 - 5 layers, depending on your pan and the amount of your ingredients.
- Close it with a lasagna. Spread a thin layer of bechamel on top. Sprinkle parmigiano reggiano.
- Scatter some pinch-sized butter at the corners and at the middle.
- Bake at a pre-heated oven of 180 degrees Celcius for 30 minutes or when top part becomes golden.
- Let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.